Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't be a Bildad!

Poor Job, not only was Satan allowed to take every single thing he cherished in an attempt to get him to turn away from God, but on top of that he had to endure the undeserved chastisement of his friends. While the Bible clearly says that Job was being dragged through the fire of testing because he was righteous and upright, Job’s friends accuse him of bringing these tragedies on himself with his own sinful behavior. While all humans are sinful, Job’s sin was not why he was suffering. Job was suffering because God said to Satan, “Hey look at this guy. Isn’t he righteous? Doesn’t he love me?” And Satan said, “Yes but he only loves you because you have given him everything he ever wanted. Take that stuff away, and he’ll stop loving you.” (Of course this is Jami’s paraphrasing of the conversation.)

I always shudder when I get to the part about Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job’s friends must be the Bible’s best what-not-to-do example in the area of friendship. When I am reading the story, I have the benefit of knowing exactly why Job was being tested. Therefore, when I get to the part where Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar start to accuse Job, I get very uncomfortable. How stupid they look! How wrong they are! They are accusing the very man God called righteous! They are telling Job to confess and repent, when what God really wants of Job is to hang on and to stand strong.

When I am faced with a friends suffering, I try very hard to live by these words: My dear brothers, take note of this: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19) Not only do I steer clear of accusations like those of Job’s friends, I also refrain from even giving advice. I reason that if someone doesn’t ask for my advice, they are not ready to hear it. Sometimes I think we assume that because someone is pouring out their heart to us, they are subconsciously asking for our opinion. Not good enough for me! I wait, no matter how deep the teeth marks in my tongue get, I bite my tongue and remain slow to speak. Even after I am specifically asked for my advice, I proceed with great caution. I proceed slowly because I know the pain of suffering. I know how sensitive and raw it makes your heart, and I know how even the words of a well-meaning friend can become as painful as lemon juice squeezed in a paper cut. I proceed slowly also because I know that no matter what I have been told, no matter how much I know of the situation, I can never know the whole thing. I can never know why a person is struggling through something. I can never know for sure what God has for that person to learn. Therefore I proceed slowly, hesitantly, and gently. I do not ever want to be lemon juice in someone’s paper cut. I, instead, want to be a soothing balm of honey poured over a raging wound.

Some might counter my argument with another verse in James, “remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20) I guess my only response to that argument is: I do not believe that the time of great suffering is the time God wants us turning sinners from the error of their ways. I believe that the suffering need to be pointed to God without condemnation. I have been involved in youth ministries, teaching, and coaching for many years. This has meant decades of dealing with teenagers. More often than I care to admit I have come face to face with a young girl, not married, who finds herself caught in the consequences of her sin. She’s pregnant, and she doesn’t know what to do. Many at that moment might see themselves as the voice of God calling out her sin to make sure that she realizes all she has done wrong. I see my role in that moment differently. I believe that for the next 18 years and more, that woman will be reaping the consequences of doing things out of God’s order. I have watched so many of them face condemnation and rejection from God’s people, when what they really needed was to experience grace, what they really needed was someone to come along side them and offer a hand to help them get up, someone to take a clean cloth and wipe away at the mud of sin stuck to their face, and someone to put their arm around them and help them limp back to the path of God’s will. So what I do is hug that girl. I offer as much financial and emotional support as I can. I give hand-me downs, I lend a listening ear, I buy a baby present, and I celebrate the beginning of a new life. I do not say even one word about waiting until marriage to have sex.

While “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:” (Ecclesiastes 3:1), I just have never believed that suffering is the time for accusations or even instruction. Oh how different it would have been if Job had been greeted by friends who were like cheerleaders, chanting, “Don’t give up! Don’t give up! Don’t give up!” How much would the situation have changed if Job’s friends had been like a warm blanket on a freezing night? If his friends had comforted him instead of accusing him, how would the story have gone?

The next time you encounter a friend who is suffering, the next time you see someone flat on their face in the mud, don’t be a Bildad! Whether the mud that person is lying in is the muck of their own sin or the slime of Satan’s testing, your friend needs the same thing: your support, your encouragement, your assistance, your prayers. Your friend needs to be reminded that God loves him/her. Your friend does not need a friend like Bildad.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eyes on Heaven; feet on the ground

On Sunday in church, our pastor showed a great video clip about the rapture. All week long it has been on my mind. The troubles and stress of this earth make me long so desperately for Heaven. I see illness, suffering and hardship all around me. It seems like every day I hear of a new person battling cancer, someone else who lost a loved one, or another job which fell victim to this terrible economy. Then there’s the stress…oh the stress. Each morning I wake and immediately begin my frenzied pace. I start the coffee and the laundry; get John up and off to work. I pray, read my Bible and blog. Then I take a quick break to run down and switch the loads. I hurry to get my work calls in before too many children awake. After working, I direct the kids to start their morning chores and lessons. Then there’s more laundry to be done, a load of dishes for the dishwasher, and a bit more work before feeding them lunch and putting Hannah down for a nap. Then it is afternoon work for me and lessons for the kids followed by more chores for the kids, more loads of laundry for me, and a quickly thrown together dinner. I rarely have time to exercise, and only occasionally do I get a few moments of downtime. Some nights we have soccer practice or Bible club or youth group kids coming over. AHHHHH! Most nights I find myself dropping into bed somewhere around 10 p.m. thinking of all the things I did not get finished and before I know it the alarm sounds and I am off to the races again.

All of it just makes me LONG to be in Heaven. I want to be walking the streets of gold. I want to just sit at my Savior’s feet basking in His glory. I want to praise Him without interruption or distraction. I want to be done with pain and sorrow and tears. I want stress to be a thing of the past and hanging with my Savior to be the only thing on my to do list.

Alas however here I am still on the earth….what to do? what to do? At the end of each day whether I have a completely checked off to do list or a ton of items still pending, whether cancer has won or been defeated, whether all is well or not well, I have to keep my eyes on Heaven and my feet on the ground. I just have to keep gazing forward to the day when I am standing before Him while working hard on all the things God is calling me to complete this day. It is hard because my spirit groans inside of me. I long for what is to come. Yet that is not what God has called me to this day.

So join with me please. Turn your head up and get your eyes on Heaven. Can you see those streets of gold? Can you hear the angels praising Him? Can you feel that longing to be with Him? But be careful! Keep your feet planted here on earth, because there is oh so much to do here before He returns.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Press through... Press through... Press through....

I love to worship. It is something I do when I am folding laundry, driving down the street, even taking a shower too. It is my favorite part of going to church. I love to sing praises to my Savior. Lately I have been having a VERY hard time worshiping during church. The reasons why are many and varied, but yesterday the root cause started coming together in my head: Satan does not want me to offer praise to my God.

Now I am not one to see a boogey man around every corner (okay maybe I am a little bit), but I believe strongly that the devil is a real presence and that his one goal is to destroy me. This belief is proven by scripture: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8) Yesterday as all the distractions assaulted me, I realized this is Satan attacking me. As I let that thought roll around in my brain, I realized that Satan’s attacks to my worship begins LONG before I even walk through the doors of our church.

I know you’ve noticed it. Haven’t you? Sunday mornings can be SO stressful: a lost shoe, alarm that didn’t go off, misplaced Bible. One time I even got a speeding ticket on the way to church! Before you know it, you are arguing with your spouse, shouting at your child and not at all in the right frame of mind to go worship your Creator. We have noticed this phenomenom. In order combat it, the second we get in the car to drive to church we start to pray. We pray for our hearts to be softened and for our spirits to be drawn to the things of God. We also pray for other families on their way to church that peace might reign in their homes, their cars, and their hearts. This has really helped to calm the discord, but Satan doesn’t give up that easily.

If somehow I make it to church and into the sanctuary with my desire to praise still intact, Satan seems to step up the attack in order to get my eyes off of God. Sometimes the distractions come from wrong notes being sung, improperly advancing slides, or other technical difficulties. But yesterday, my biggest source of distraction was my beautiful children. I was standing there trying so hard to press through the distractions all around me, and my kids were hanging on me, hugging me, even racing about the sanctuary. This is the moment at which I realized what a sneaky, snake the devil is. Here he was using my favorite thing on this earth, my babies, to distract me from worshipping my God. I calmly directed my children to praise or sit quietly still returned to lifting my hands and praising my Lord. I could hear one though echoing through my brain, “Press through…. Press through… Press through….”

Sometimes it is not easy to praise God, follow God, hear from God, but we have to press through. We have to press through the distractions of children interrupting our worship, dirty dishes calling us to step away from our study of the Bible, and sinful tendencies calling us to turn away from our God. We have to press through!

No matter how big the distraction, I hope today you’ll hear this thought echoing through your brain, “Press through… Press through…. Press through…” And next week Sunday when you wake up, before you even put your feet on the ground, remember: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12). Then purpose in your heart to say, "Get thee behind me Satan!" every time a distraction comes your way. So that in the end you can stand, focused on your Savior, and singing the praises He is due.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rain

“Momma, can you pray to Jesus that it won’t rain?” I have often been asked this question. Today as we stood on the soccer field with dark clouds looming in the west, I was asked it again. Jeremiah has struggled with a bit of a weather phobia for a few years now. He is typically the one who asks me to pray that the storm won’t come. Whenever he asks this, I cannot help thinking, “But the rain smells so good! The sound of the rain pounding on the pavement is so soothing. The boom of the thunder is so exhilarating.” I have tried before to school Jeremiah on the benefits of the rain. I tell him how rain helps the grass and trees to grow. I explain that rain rinses away the dirt on the streets. I marvel at the way a storm reveals some of God’s glory. All of these lessons fall on deaf ears, because Jeremiah can only think of the fear which arises in him during a storm.

It is similar to my reaction to the storms of life. I want God to calm the storm. I want Him to stand up in the boat and say, “Peace be still.” I want Him to calm the wind and the waves of hardship with just His quiet words. I struggle with a bit of a hardship phobia. I just want God to make the hardships go away. I most definitely miss some of the good smells and soothing sounds of hardship because I am shaking in my boots praying to Jesus that it won’t rain.

When Jeremiah wants me to pray that it won’t rain, I usually respond by saying, “Jeremiah, I can tell it is going to rain. I can see the dark clouds, and I know what they mean. It is going to rain. Why don’t we pray to Jesus to keep us safe through the rain? Let’s ask Him to protect us during the storm.” This is the beginner level I encourage my seven-year old to aspire to. Face a storm by asking God to help you weather it instead of begging him to take it away.

But there is an advanced level too. Eventually I want Jeremiah to get past beginner level to a more advanced level. I want him to get to the point where he can master his phobia and appreciate the benefits of the storm. This is the level to which I aspire as well. I want to get to the point where I not only ask God to help me weather hardships but where I can actually appreciate the benefits of them. I also want to lessen the amount of time I spend whining about the impending storm, quickly moving through the part where I ask God to protect me, and I want to reside in the place where I can see clearly the good God is bringing through the hardship. That is the expert level to which I am aspiring. Today’s storms reminded and encouraged me, and I hope they did the same for you too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On potty training regression and sin

“Hannah pooped on the floor!” I am getting so tired of hearing those words. Our little princess has been sliding down the slippery slope of potty training regression for several months now. She was completely potty-trained at the beginning of last fall, but since about January, not so much. Her most recent setback is in the area of “number two.” For our little diva, it is not enough that she fails to make it to the potty when she has to go “number two.” Nope! She is so independent that she has to try to rid herself of the mess because she doesn’t like it in her underpants. Last night my bathroom looked like someone tossed a poopy diaper grenade in there. At least twice, I heard shouts of, “I stepped in Hannah’s poop!” It seemed we kept finding little “care packages” tucked away in different places around the bathroom and beyond. The smell was overwhelming, and the clean up was torturous to say the least.

But come on….you know me right? You can feel me heading toward the lesson. Are you thinking, “DISGUSTING! How in the world is she going to turn that YUCK into a lesson from God?” Ladies and gentlemen, I do NOT turn them into lessons from God. He does, and here’s what He revealed to me.

How often are we like Hannah? We sin, and try to clean up the mess by ourselves. But what results is a nightmare of poopy proportions. As we try to clean up the sin by ourselves, and sometimes long after, we keep finding remnants of our sin tucked away in unexpected places. Sorrow or pain the sin brought or a tender spot left by the hurt of the sin or that sense of shame when the sin flits through our mind. And the stench! Ahh the stench of our sin! It is overwhelming and makes our attempts at clean up so torturous.

But imagine this. Imagine if Hannah had not tried to clean up that accident by herself. Imagine if she had trotted down the stairs, uncomfortable from the mess in her pants, but contrite and looking to her mother for help. I would have carefully removed the offending underpants, cleaned up the mess on her, and taken care of the soiled clothing. The floor would not have had to be cleaned, seventeen towels and three shirts would not have been stained, and the entire upstairs would not have smelled like it desperately needed to be fumigated.

Let my daughter’s poopy problem bring you to your senses today. It is humbling and uncomfortable to turn to God with our failures, but He is much better equipped to deal with the mess we made then we are. He will take our sin (every single time we commit it), clean us up, and care for the mess we made. We just have to humble ourselves and go to Him.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When dreams come true...

My pulse quickened and my head swam a little when I read her e-mail, “Thanks for applying at Examiner.com. We have reviewed your information and believe you would make an excellent Milwaukee Family Activities Examiner.” What?!?! I got it?!?! Confirmation of my first official writing gig made my spirit jump with excitement. I just knew! JUST KNEW! that this was the start of something big for me!

But as I stand here on the threshold of one of my dreams becoming reality, I have to pause and ask myself, “Is God any more God right now when I am ecstatic and having my dream fulfilled than He was when I was suffering and afraid?” I believe God wants me to examine this thought today. Why is it that I approach dream fulfillment so differently than I approach trials and tribulations?

Trials and tribulations drive me straight to my knees. In fact, before I even process what the hard situation is, it seems I am before His throne, petitioning Him. Yet when I got that e-mail, I shot up a quick prayer of thanks and then got busy with the fun stuff: creating my bio, choosing a picture, filling out my I-9. Even as I am typing this I am feeling God’s conviction raining down on me, “Don’t rush about in the excitement of this moment and forget to thank the One who gave you this moment! Don’t forget to praise Him! Don’t give Him just a cursory thank you and move along!” I need to remember to slow down and fall to my knees! I need to praise and thank Him. I need to PRAY!

When trials and tribulations come my way one thing I always struggle with is Why God? Why? Why is this happening? Yet for some reason when dreams are being fulfilled I do not wonder why. But guess what? There is a reason for this dream being fulfilled just as surely as there is a reason for my suffering. God has a purpose for me becoming a Milwaukee Family Activities Examiner, just as much as He had a purpose for us struggling through how to pay our electric bill last month. So when faced with the fulfillment of my dreams, maybe I need to wonder Why God? Why? Why is this happening? Maybe I need to ask God to reveal what He wants to do through this opportunity so that I do not miss out on any of the blessings He wants to bring through it.

The final thing I do when trials and tribulations come my way is “gird up my loins” and get to work on the hard stuff. I need to remember too that dreams aren’t just blissfully floating along on puffy white clouds. The fulfillment of a dream involves hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. One of my fears as I take on this new writing gig is that this blog will suffer. It is going to take a lot of hard work to continue juggling the balls I normally have in the air (work, family, homeschooling, youth group) and add in these new writing balls too. However, nothing worthwhile comes easily. So I need to gird up my loins and get to work on it!

Whether you are facing the fulfillment of a dream or struggling through trials and tribulations today, I think your strategy should be the same: fall to your knees, ask God why, and then gird up your loins. I know that’s what I’m going to do.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Right Fit....

Last night we traveled to Sports Authority to mortgage a kidney and buy soccer cleats. Three pairs… yups three pairs! That’s what we set out to buy. Well no Kastner outing can be without a little drama so read on if you want to laugh a little.

Upon entering the store I rushed for the restroom because as my children announced over and over again as we traveled through the parking lot and entered the store, “Momma has to go pee!” I returned from the restroom to find four children seriously testing their Daddy’s lack of four arms. They were in four different aisles, and it looked like they might be playing Marco Polo without a swimming pool. I started corralling them all into one place as a sales person approached. Obviously she had received a, “Code Red! The Kastners are in the store!” call because she did not even work in the footwear department. She pointed us to the cleats and left to find the person who actually worked in that department.

We quickly found the cheap cleats and started trying them on. Wouldn’t you know it! While Noah and Elijah’s feet fit just fine in the cheapest cleats, Jeremiah’s wide foot needed a cleat that was $6 more and was WAY cooler. Blech! The momma in me started to revolt! I can’t buy two the cheap cleats and one the better cleats! I can’t force Jeremiah to shove his foot into a shoe that is too small! What to do?!?! What to do?!?! As my children sat there paying hardly no mind at all to the differences in their cleats, I was having a crisis of faith surrounded by sharp bottomed shoes! Noah and Elijah had commented on how cool Jeremiah’s cleats were and then moved along, so I decided to follow their lead and just proceed to the register.

This got me thinking…isn’t that just how God is? He doesn’t worry about giving us all the same exact thing. He looks at His children, sees what they need, and gives accordingly. Some of us need a wider fit, some a cushier insole, and some a more supportive arch, but in the end all of us get what we need: a pair of cleats that fits OUR feet.

I also thought about how my children could have pouted and whined and fought to get the “cooler looking” cleats, but instead just grateful that they were getting cleats, they picked up their box and headed towards the door. We too can choose to look around at other people and whine about how our situation compares to theirs, or we can just pick up our basket of blessings for that day and move along toward the exit.

All day long I have been getting pestered (on this cold and dreary and UN-soccerlike day) to go to the park and break-in soccer cleats. Every time I have a pair of little cleats shoved in my face with a request for a trip to the park, I am reminded to say, “Thank you God for what I need for this day!” I know that what I have is exactly what I need, and that should I need something more or different, God will give it to me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sorrow and Joy

Yesterday was such a hard day at our church. Childhood Leukemia, terminal cancer, and even a loved one passing away, all three of these situations were present yesterday morning in our tiny little church of just over one hundred people. Then I walked outside and saw the rain falling, almost as if God himself were crying over the suffering all around. It put me in a bit of a funk of sadness, and I had to try hard to claw my way out of the fog.

Saturday, John and I had a discipleship meeting with our Pastor, and we talked about how manic/depressive the Psalms can be. One moment David is lamenting that God has forsaken him, and the next he is eloquently praising His majesty. I think that is why I love David and the Psalms so much, because that is what life is like. Sometimes the rain falls, and the tears come. Sometimes the sun shines, and we are smiling.

But I digress, back to my main point. How do we turn sorrow into joy? What should be our response to suffering? How do I push past the sadness that is enveloping me? Here’s what I do:

1. Pray – I feel like I have spent the entire weekend on my knees. The sorrow and the suffering drive me to my knees. When I see pain and suffering in others, I snap into a mode of intercession. I pray because while I cannot heal the pain I see, I know the One who can.

2. Act – I cannot stand that feeling of helplessness. I feel such a strong need to HELP. I can’t make Luke’s spinal tap come back clean. I can’t give Gary more energy to fight this battle with cancer. I can’t take away the loss Grace is feeling right now. But I can reach out. I can offer to cook a meal, watch a child, or run an errand.

3. Learn – All around me I see such WONDERFUL examples of strong and pure faith, and I am not about to let them pass me by without gleaning something from them. I am going to aspire to the faith I see in those around me. All these people around me facing such HARD things and saying over and over again, God be glorified in me, I want to be like that!

This weekend I had the privilege of observing something so inspiring, the death of one of God’s dear saints. Our friend Grace sat at the bedside of her beloved father for days, praying, singing and reading scripture to him, and she blogged about it giving me a glimpse into something miraculous. What a blessed way to pass on to glory! I can truly think of no better way to die then after I have lived a full life serving my savior, and then to pass on with my beloved child sitting by my side keeping me company until finally God takes me home. I cried much of the weekend for the pain I saw Grace suffering as she let go, but instead of allowing myself to wallow in that pain, I chose to wipe away the tears and be inspired by the long God-honoring life led by her father, by the love of a daughter for her father, by the grace of our God who woke that daughter up at just the right moment to witness her father’s last breaths.

So I guess the conclusion is this: there is sadness and there is joy in this blessed thing called life. How can we embrace one without accepting the other? Sorrow is not much fun, but it serves a purpose too. I’m choosing to let my sorrow drive me to my knees, to use my sorrow as a reason to reach out and act, and in my sorrow to glean inspiration from faith worth following lived out right in front of my eyes.

May God bless all those I love who are suffering. Rest assured that I am feeling your pain today.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

God Created SpongeBob

Sunday!!! Recycle an old blog day! And today I'm actually getting it done BEFORE church! Yeah!

I have often thought of how I truly believe that SpongeBob Squarepants is ordained of God, sent to this earth to bring just a small amount of peace to the unworthy, harried, and partly insane mother of three rambunctious little boys and one diva-like princess. One day as I sat at my computer, having begged, screamed and pleaded with the children for just a moment to finish the tiny bit of work I had been graced with that day, I praised the Lord for SpongeBob.

It was another time of drought at my company. Work had been VERY slow and those of us who work offsite were again (as always) at the bottom of the work totem pole. Therefore when the work flow slowed, our paychecks were the ones to pay the prices. That morning when the news came that there was work for me, I was chomping at the bit to get it completed, but of course my children did not get the memo that Momma had been given a little work, and they should play quietly while Momma brought home the bacon.

They were racing around the house SCREAMING! They were practicing their Power Rangers routines on each other and occasionally making dangerous contact with someone's jaw or abdomen. I had screamed and begged and pleaded with them to no avail. When all of a sudden I heard it, the sweetest sounds my ears had ever heard: "Are you ready kids?" My heart, soul, mind, and body screamed, "AYE-AYE CAPTAIN!!!" as all of my little hooligan's zipped into the living room, sat on the couch and stared at the television mesmerized. There is just nothing that captivates all of them like SpongeBob Squarepants! For that reason, "nautical nonsense be something I wish!" I just LOVE that absorbent, yellow and porous little guy.

So for thirty minutes I typed as fast as my little fingers could go, and I got a few minutes of peace in a CRAZY day.

Long live SpongeBob Squarepants!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Psalm for my Sister

Today is the four year anniversary of the day my nephew Luke Hentzell was diagnosed with Leukemia, and on Tuesday, he goes to the hospital for a spinal tap to ensure the headaches he has been suffering from lately are not a result of a relapse of the Leukemia. As you can imagine my sister (actually our whole family), is clinging desperately to Jesus and trying hard not to walk down the road of what ifs.

I wrote the following in a blog about a year and a half ago for my sister Jodi. I actually hardly remember the specifics of what Luke was struggling through at that time. I just thought now might be an appropriate time to regurgitate this Psalm.

Psalm 77 for Jodi Hentzell

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, when my baby was weak, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands to wipe his sweaty brow,
to hold his aching body,
to force medicine down his throat to stop the headaches
and my soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused and my spirit grew faint. Selah.
You kept my eyes from closing; you kept my knees from giving out;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about former days, the years of long ago;
I remembered his soft baby face at my breast....cancer a faint paranoia
I really never entertained.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
Will the Lord reject Luke forever?
Will He never show His favor to Luke again?
Has His unfailing love vanished forever?
Has His promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful to this tiny little boy?
Has He withheld His compassion? Selah.
Then I thought, "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High."
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago;
I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.
Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the people.
You removed his cancer;
You gave wisdom to create chemotherapy;
You heal the sick!
With Your mighty arm You have brought this boy, this family
through 2 ½ long years of chemotherapy.
The cancer saw You, O God,
the cancer saw You and fled, every last cell fled!
Your people poured down kindness,
our lives resounded with their helpfulness,
their prayers flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
Your voice came through the hospital stays;
Your lightning lit up the world; that child's smile still lights up this pain;
my heart trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the chemo,
Your way through many spinal taps...
You've led this family like a flock by the hand of your grace and mercy.

After you read this, please take a second to pray for Luke. Please pray that NO signs of Leukemia will be found in his spinal fluid on Tuesday. Please pray for my sister Jodi and her husband Shawn. Please pray that our God will hold them FIRMLY in his grasp. Pray that next Tuesday we will mark a brand-new anniversary, April 21, 2009, the date that Luke defeated that nasty word: relapse.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Skittle-Pooping Unicorns...

Have you seen Facing the Giants? If you haven’t, you need to! If you have, you should watch it again! What an inspirational movie! I cry every time I watch it! I love the overall theme of this movie so much, “With God, NOTHING is impossible!” However, this theme causes me to think too. Since nothing is impossible with God, are we to assume that we’ll get everything we want? Should we think that nothing but healing, prosperity, and perfect relationships are in our future? Not so much; here is why.

God cares more about your character than your comfort.

It would be nice if we could all live in a blue-sky world filled with nothing but rainbows and unicorns who poop out skittles, but in that comfortable world what would happen to our character? I don’t know about you so I will only speak for myself, I really actually have an easier time loving God when times are tough. I feel drawn to Him so much more frequently. I long for Him more often. I pray harder, search my Bible deeper, and rely upon Him more fully, when I am suffering. It is in these postures (prayer, need, longing, searching) that my character is molded.

I am sure God would prefer to set me down in a beautiful land of milk and honey and skittle-pooping unicorns; however, my God knows His baby girl. He knows that in that world where things are going perfectly I will move along doing everything in my own strength. I will have the power to read my Bible and pray and worship in my own strength. What need will I have for Him? He will just fade to the background, and I will become the focus. He knows that in that comfortable world, my character will suffer.

Please don’t get me wrong. I do not enjoy the suffering. I do not long for hardship. However, I am learning to embrace it. I am learning to move beyond tolerance to appreciation. I am finding how to appreciate the good things which can result from tough times.

Recently a man from our church received a terminal cancer diagnosis. His response to this diagnosis knocked my socks off! He asked us NOT to pray for his healing. He asked us to pray for God to be glorified through his situation, realizing God could be glorified just as much through his death as through a miraculous healing. Wow! Now that is some STRONG character!

Be inspired today. Whatever you are going through, stop fighting against it! Stop lamenting the terrible times you find yourself in, and start looking for ways to take notice of the good things which can come from your circumstances. Let your suffering bring you to your knees in prayer. When you are facing tough times, dive into the Word. Allow God to turn your suffering into His glory. AND whatever you do, don’t you dare forget the theme of my favorite movie: With God, NOTHING is impossible!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Worry Doubles the Suffering

Every time I get behind the wheel of our minivan, I am gripped by fear. I have struggled with this for a long time. We have been in the vise grip of financial hardship, struggling to make the bills each month for almost four years now. There is absolutely none of what you all call "savings;" we have no reserve; there is nothing to fall back on. Therefore, I live in a continual state of fear that something will go wrong with our vehicle. Now that we are down to just one vehicle in another attempt to stop the hemorrhaging of our finances, the fear and worry have intensified greatly.

The Bible has a lot to say about worry:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (Matthew 6:25)

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:27)

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. (Matthew 6:28)

So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" (Matthew 6:31)

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

I know these verses oh so well. I have learned them, heard them, memorized them since I was a little girl, yet STILL I worry. I worry that the brakes will need to be replaced. I worry that the transmission will go. I worry that the tires will need to be replaced. Worry! Worry! Worry! Two weeks ago the tires needed to be replaced, and guess what? We found the money to do that. I do not know exactly how, but it worked out. Yesterday the brakes started grinding. We are squeezing the money to fix them out of our tight budget. Guess what? The actual things that go wrong with the car are quickly taken care of without much suffering at all. You know what is causing all my suffering? Worry.

John and I have been in this horrible financial nightmare for almost four years now. We have suffered through situations that most of you can't even imagine. We have not only been putting a band-aid on the bullet hole in our finances, but we have also been dealing with the confusion of those around us who just do not seem to understand why we can't get the bleeding to stop. Guess what? We do not get it either. We have given up two vehicles in order to save money. We have given up just about every single luxury imaginable. We rarely buy things for our children. Every single piece of furniture on our lower level has either been give to us as a gift, rescued from someone else's garbage heap, or bought with the bartering of John's hard work. Yet still here we are hemorrhaging without anything to stop the bleeding but a single little band-aid. Through all of this, over and over and OVER again, I have seen God reach down, brushing aside my little band-aid, and put his finger over the bullet hole holding back the bleeding. Here's what I do not get: STILL I worry. I have come face-to-face with the awesome power of my great God over and over and over again through this journey and STILL I worry about the next hurdle. This week! This very week! I witness yet another miracle, and STILL I worry. My hours have been drastically reduced at work. I was expecting a ludicrous check that would barely be enough for the groceries and would definitely not be enough to cover our small (yet seemingly impossible) tax bill. Yesterday the deposit posted to my account, and it was twice what I thought it would be. What? How is that possible? I had yet to receive my paystub so I had no idea why my deposit was so large. This morning I found out. In spite of tough economic times, my company paid us last year's gain sharing. Praise Jesus! Now I could pay the taxes!

So here it is finally...I am to the lesson part. The worry is what is causing my suffering, NOT the financial hardship. Worry is making me lose sleep. Worry is knotting up my stomach. Worry is taking its toll on my health. Worry is the demon I need to slay. I need to get my eyes up off the worry and back onto my God. Maybe all of this bleeding is happening NOT because of mistakes we have made or Satan trying to break us. Maybe, just possibly, this has a greater purpose: that of getting me to stop being a slave to worry.

What are you worrying about today? The cancer returning? A loved one passing? Your spouse cheating? The car breaking down? Partner with me. Let's agree TODAY to lie down our worries and to focus our eyes on our God. Today let us remember that His eye is on the sparrow, and today let us purpose in our hearts not to allow ourselves to be enslaved to worry.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gossip Girl

For two days now, I have been struggling with writer’s block. It is not because I have nothing to write about, but because I do not want to write about what God put on my heart. I keep shying away from it because I do not want to tackle the issue, partially because I do not want to sound preachy, but mostly because if I write about it, I will have to think about it, and if I think about it, I will have to make oh so many changes.

Gossip, hearsay, idle talk, defamation, slander.... I have often been the victim and the perpetrator of this vicious crime. As a very sensitive person, it crushes me to know others are talking about me, judging me, spreading stories about me, and as a very sinful person, I turn right around and do the same thing to others. Recently, I was an outside party looking in on gossip, and for some reason that situation has been resonating through my brain, my heart and my soul, calling me to form an opinion and take a stand. Here’s kind of how it went down:

Standing apart from the group, minding my own business, I heard the discussion begin.
“I don’t know how she can justify being involved with a married man!” They were talking about a woman who had just left the group.
“Well, she says he’s in the process of a divorce,” someone inserted in the woman’s defense.
“I am in a Bible study with his wife, and she just said the other day, they were working to save their marriage,” another voice chimed in.
I sat there apart from them trying to block out their voices. Just overhearing those little snippets of their conversation made me feel icky, dirty, sad.

Since I was in junior high I think, I have struggled with this concept. Where do you draw the line when talking about other people? Sharing the miracle of my nephew surviving Leukemia is not gossip, but what about asking others to pray for my grandfather who is drinking and gambling again? I do not claim to be an expert on what is right, but I do want to search hard to find answers. So I consulted my pastor, and his answer really got me thinking. He said, “Jesus said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’” Hmmmm…. Good point! When I am about to talk, I need to stop and think, “Would I want someone saying this about me?”

But have you ever been in this place? Someone says or does something that just DRIVES YOU UP A WALL! You are irritated beyond words and struggling to process the situation by yourself. So you tell your BFF. You share the details. You spew your venom, anger, frustration in the name of “venting” and think it is fine. I am not giving this example as an uninvolved party. This is actually where I gossip the most. I think it is just fine to spew out my feelings about a situation to John or Christina or Cori because I need to process it, because I need to come to grip with my feelings. Guess what? I do NOT see that Biblically mandated. I do not recall ever reading where God says it is okay. I read, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) I find, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (James 3:6) Finally, I see, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) But I have yet to find, “When someone REALLY ticks you off, spew anger, venom and hateful words about them; rehash the situation over and over and over again until you feel better about it.” Yeah that one I am not finding in my Bible.

Here’s what I did when I overheard that conversation (which by the way has been COMPLETELY altered to protect the guilty and innocent alike). First I sinned. I immediately went to John and told him all about it.

“Ah!” I agonized, “Why do people have to talk about others!”
“Grr!” I growled, “it makes me SO mad!”
All of a sudden that little voice chimed in. You know the one, that little voice in your head. I am sure you have heard it once or twice too.
My voice said, “Ahem… Jami… what are you doing right now? Ummmm…. Aren’t you talking about people right now? Aren’t you even sitting in judgment of those same people?”
I didn’t even try to defend myself. I realized that God let me hear that teeny tiny “speck in my neighbor’s eye” so I could recognize the HUMONGOUS plank sticking out of mine!

What to do? What to do? Now that I realized that I was sinning how was I going to stop? It is so HARD to hear that small voice in your head when you are angry or worked up about something! So what was I to do in order to get control of this sinful behavior?

Here’s what I did. I went to the best little consciences I know: my children. They hear nearly everything I say, as I rarely remember to censor what I am saying for their benefit. So I said to them, “Guys Momma has a problem with talking bad about people. Have you ever heard Momma talking bad about someone?” Noah immediately piped up with the exact one I was feeling most guilty about. “Yes, Noah that’s a perfect example! Momma does say bad things about that person when she is aggravated.” I then explained to the kids that God doesn’t want us to talk bad about others and that I needed their help. I asked them if they overheard me talking bad about someone to simply say to me, “Momma, should you be talking about that?”

I’ve yet to experience the conviction from one of my children on this issue, but I am sure it will come. I know myself, a filthy rotten sinner. I am sure that I will do it again, and probably soon. I also know my children. They are so good at innocently stating the obvious without any tact at all like, “Hey Mom, your tummy looks like you are growing a baby again.” So I am hopeful that between the little voice in my head and the little people running around my feet, I will become more aware of when I am falling into this trap of sin. Because as stated in a previous blog, when I see something wrong around me, I need to “Be the change I want to see.” I am the only one in this WHOLE world who I have the power to change. So I am going to work hard to change that one person, ME, and hope that eventually it spreads to others around me.

I apologize. I do not feel like this blog is very pithy or well-written. I let the message fester inside of me so long that I feel like it came out as a bit of a jumbled mess. In the future, I have to work to stop being so stubborn. But alas, that is an entirely different blog.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A little perspective....

I think Sunday's are going to become recycling days. I just can't seem to get an original writing posted on Sundays. They are too hectic! So here's another oldie but goodie. One of my favorites...

My three-year old Elijah is precocious to say the least. However, it is always interesting how a little bit of perspective brings his antics into focus and instantly wipes away any frustration I feel with him.

One night I returned home to learn that Elijah had dumped about a liter of Hawaiian Punch on my bedroom carpet. What I didn't know then was it would be only the beginning of a campaign of destruction which would last for the next two days.

The next morning, my father brought over the carpet cleaner so I could clean up the Hawaiian Punch spill. No sooner had I finished cleaning the large red spot and returned from dumping the dirty water out of the carpet cleaner, then I found he had snuck down into the kitchen, stole a jar of peanut butter out of the cupboard and smeared it all over the exact same spot where the Hawaiian Punch had been. Muttering under my breath, I went back for the carpet cleaner and repeated the carpet cleaning process.

Earlier in the day, he had found a can of shaving cream left over from when “vandals” toilet papered our house, and he coated our blanket chest with about an inch of shaving cream. When I went to discipline him for this, I found him searching for a rag to clean up the evidence. He was naked with shaving cream on one hand and one bare butt cheek, and he was wearing the bronze shoe Noah, my oldest, had made for me for Mother's Day on one foot. I could not do anything at the sight of him but laugh.

Just before dinner we left to run some errands, and all four of my children fell asleep in the car. Now for those of you who have children, you know what an incredible feat it is to get them all sleeping at the same time. I would rather have gnawed off my own arm then wake any of them by trying to remove them from the car. So I just came up with more errands to run which would not involve taking them out of the vehicle. My last stop was at my grandmother’s house. I ran in to give her some pictures, leaving all four children sound asleep in the van. I was inside about 3 ½ minutes. When I returned to the van, I found Elijah had woken up, and he was in the front seat messing with the radio. As I returned him to his seat, he said, "Look Momma." He had found a packet of BBQ sauce in the garbage can, opened it and poured the entire packet between the seats. I returned home feeling like I needed a vacation.

I have noticed this odd phenomenon that he seems to go on these destructive binges where he does a gob of horrendous things and then takes a break for a little bit to build up some steam for his next reign of terror. I was hoping with all of me that he was at least taking a break to gain more steam for the next time, because I wasn’t sure if I could take anymore.

Wednesday I tried so hard to not let him out of my sight. This is not an easy task when you have four children and three jobs. At naptime, I tried to no avail to get him to sleep. Finally, I gave up and then just minutes before we were supposed to leave for the grocery store, I found him collapsed and sound asleep on the floor in his room. I got a sitter so I wouldn't have to wake the little despot.

Then late that night came the event which put everything into perspective. It was 11:15 p.m., and I was sweeping the kitchen floor. I knew that since he had taken a late nap, Elijah was still awake in his room with his brother Noah, but what I did not know was that they had smuggled hard candy from their Daddy's birthday basket into their room. Noah came tearing down the stairs. He was crying and screaming, "Elijah's choking." I threw down the broom and bolted up the stairs two at a time.

When I got to their room, I found that Elijah was indeed choking. I thought I heard him gasp, but as I knelt down to him I found he was not breathing at all. As I pulled him into my arms to perform the Heimlich maneuver on him, I heard him start to cough. It was very surreal. I couldn't seem to get my mind around what CPR class had taught me. I knew that if he was moving air he was not truly choking so I should allow him to work the item out of his windpipe; however, even though he was breathing, he was struggling so hard on the piece of smuggled candy that was trapped in his throat. Noah was terrified. He was screaming and crying. I told him to go wake his daddy (mostly to remove him from the room). Just as he returned with a very sleepy daddy in tow, Elijah started vomiting. The light still was not on in their room, and by the glow of the TV, I thought I saw blood in what he was puking up. I thought, "Oh God....we better call 911." But as the light came on I realized it was only spit colored dark by the toffee candy which was causing all this ruckus. Then like a gift from heaven, I saw the piece of candy in the vomit I was holding in my hands.

I pulled Elijah into my arms and thanked God for all the trouble he would cause today and the next day and the next day. With tears in my eyes, I sang praises that there was still life in this little destroyer's body. I told Noah that he was the BEST big brother in the world, because he had saved his brother's life by running for help. I glanced over at my middle son sleeping in his bed through this entire incident. There I sat stinking of vomit and realizing that my world was right and perfect and amazing.

Even as I tell this story with tears streaming down my face from remembering it all, I realize nothing else matters: money troubles, lack of sleep, no time to myself, a house that is completely destroyed on a regular basis… none of it matters. I do not care if I go the rest of my life without ever having another restful vacation. I am blessed and lucky, and all I really want is many more years to hold these babies in my arms.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Sermon from Hannah Montana

Yesterday, I took my little princess to see Hannah Montana: The Movie. I give it two thumbs up! It was rated G. I just love a rated G movie! I can appreciate a nice throwback to the old days when it was safe to enter a movie theater. The movie had a good storyline with great music and enough country flavor to give this wannabe farm girl her fill. But the best part was the part I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect to be moved to tears. I didn’t expect to hear a sermon from Hannah Montana. However, she preached to me. With her song, The Climb, she delivered a four-point sermon nearly as good as Shane Houle can.

She started singing, and I thought, “Nice song. Good voice.” But then she hit the chorus and with it the sermon began. First she rained conviction over my soul:

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb


Life is not easy, not for any of us. All around me I see sickness, financial hardship, and broken hearts. We all struggle. We all have a mountain in front of us. But guess what? That mountain should be embraced instead of shunned, and we need to stop wishing we could make it move and just enjoy the climb. Often I have viewed the things I have struggled through as valleys. I see the tough times in life as deep, dark, forsaken places. Now, thanks to Hannah Montana, I am going to view my struggles as mountains I can enjoy climbing. I want to see myself out in the sunshine struggling to get the top but still enjoying the process that is getting me there.

Hannah Montana wasn’t done preaching to me. She continued her sermon by speaking affirmation to my heart:

The struggles I’m facing
The chances I’m taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I’m not breaking

Sometimes the struggles of life knock us down. Sometimes we are climbing that mountain, but we fall. Recently, I reached a point like that on my path. After I got up and resumed my climb, I still felt so guilty. When I fell down, I worried. I despaired. I cried, screamed and swore. I felt guilty because I should have trusted God. I should have been at peace. I should have praised and worshiped and prayed. But guess what Hannah was telling me? Sometimes we might get knocked down, but we don’t break. Just because we show our human side, doesn’t mean we gave up or lost the battle.

Some of you are probably getting a little tired of this teeny bopper’s sermon, but I wasn’t. God uses whom He chooses, and the next point in this sermon was a wise reminder from a very young girl:

I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I’m gonna remember most, yeah


The things that happen on the climb up the mountain are things that will never be forgotten. When I am climbing the mountain in front of me, I learn valuable lessons from God. I build strong bonds with those I love. I model how to climb a mountain to those around me. These are the things I will remember most. Because the climb was difficult, I will never forget the things that happened along the way to the top.

Finally at the end, it was like Hannah Montana wrapped her arms around me and started patting me on the back with her comforting words:

Keep on moving, keep climbing
Keep the faith, baby
It’s all about, it’s all about the climb
Keep the faith, keep your faith, whoa

I heard her crooning don’t give up Jami! You keep on fighting! Don’t forget this message: it’s the climb! You’re not breaking! These are the moments that you’re going to remember the most! KEEP your faith! Keep your FAITH! KEEP YOUR FAITH!

Guess what? I don’t care if you like her or not. I don’t care if you are 5 or 95. This is a message you need to hear too! Stop focusing on the mountain in front of you and start enjoying the climb. When life knocks you to the ground, get back up and get going again. The hardest struggles are going to make the best memories. No matter what you do: keep on moving! Keep climbing! Keep the faith!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Aroma of Jesus

Last week I had a tooth extracted. Then a few days ago, I had to return to the dentist as my extraction site was bothering me. I thought the site was infected, but the dentist said it was not. He then packed the hole in my gum with medicated gauze because he suspected I had a dry socket. It was not a fun process. The packing was not comfortable, and the aroma and taste of the stuff he put in my gum was like nothing I have ever experienced before. I gagged over the taste dripping down my throat and immediately lost my ability to smell any other aroma. I returned home and immediately my smell announced my arrival. Noah said, “That is you? I thought the people came to spray the lawn!” Elise was standing behind my chair as I faced the TV and said goodbye to her. She said she could smell me when I was not even talking in her direction. John put his hand over his face every time I opened my mouth, and Elijah kept fanning his hand in front of his face in an attempt to shoo away my odor. At first I was just miserable with the over-powering aroma and taste driving me nuts. Now two days later, I have become a little accustomed to it, and I think it is actually wearing off a little too.


This made me think. Wouldn’t it be great if my love for Jesus permeated my life as much as the smell permeated my breath? Wouldn’t it be great if all I could smell and taste would be Him? If every time I opened my mouth, others were overwhelmed by the love of Jesus flowing out of me? If just by standing behind me, they were still surrounded by the love of God?

I thought about this and I wondered, how can I plant a little bit of medicated Jesus gauze in my heart to make this happen? And how do I avoid becoming accustomed to it and allowing it to wear off a little? I know this answer is basic. It is like Christianity 101. It has to be a daily thing. Every single solitary day I have to fill up on Jesus. I have to read the Word. I have to talk to Him. The more I pursue Him, the more He will pour out of me. The more I immerse myself in Him, the more I will smell like Him.


So if you want to smell like Jesus too, then quit reading this blog and go talk to Him! Open up His word. Spend some time basking in Him, and then go and spread the aroma of Jesus to all around you.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Remembering Michelle

As long as I live, I will NEVER forget the dread I felt when I heard the first words of that voice mail message, “Jami, it’s Lori Witmer.” I really don’t think the message said much more than to call, but it was in Lori’s voice that I heard what I knew I did not want to hear. Something bad had happened in Iraq.

A few years earlier, I was honored to be invited to a going away party for Rachel and Michelle Witmer. They were being deployed to Iraq. I remember I wrote Michelle a letter, in which I told her I did not understand how the government could send 13-year olds to fight a war. See in my head Michelle and all my other junior high students from Heritage were somehow frozen in time as 13-year old versions of themselves. I could not imagine how she was old enough to go off to fight a war, but the strength and courage in her eyes told me she was.

Now it was the Saturday before Easter, and I had spent the day at the zoo with three little boys. I walked through the door ready to collapse and checked the voice mail messages. After retrieving Lori’s message, I quickly called her back, and my fears were confirmed. Something bad had happened. Michelle was killed in action while on patrol in Baghdad. Most of the details of those next few days are hazy because of the sorrow that clouded my head and the fact that 5 year’s time has passed. I recall crying so much that I thought my tear ducts would shrivel up and close for business. I remember wanting desperately to reach out and touch the Witmers to help ease their pain, but knowing full well that there was absolutely NOTHING I could do to ease the pain of losing their dear sweet Michelle.

Here five years later, I have fresh tears in my eyes recalling Michelle’s death. I cry not for her, for she is walking the streets of Heaven with our Savior, but I cry for John, Lori, Rachel, Tim, Charity, and Mark left to navigate the not-so-gold-lined streets of this earth without her. Yet even in the sadness of this day I am able to find hope. I am able to glean a lesson from this terrible, gut wrenching experience.

The number one lesson I learned from April 9, 2004 was, “Cherish EACH and EVERY moment you have with those you love.” Take every chance you get to tell them you love them. Strive hard to never walk away angry. Enjoy your loved ones no matter how much they might irritate you, even when you don’t see eye-to-eye, and not just in spite of their weaknesses but because of their weaknesses. Remember to thank God for the privilege of having this day with your husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother.

I will NEVER forget Michelle Marie Witmer (KIA 4/9/04).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Appointments by God

Did you ever have one of those moments when you come to the stark realization that God is orchestrating your daily appointments? Most of the time, my life is so full of chaos not much time is left for introspection. In the words of one of my dearest friends, “I am busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger.” I race from task to task hardly ever “in the moment.” I typically am completing a job with my mind on the next job on the list. However, every now and then, something happens that brings all around me to a screeching halt, as I realize that life is not just a series of tasks on MY list, but it is actually a series of divine appointments scheduled by God.

Several months ago I hatched a plan to start a youth cheerleading program here in Franklin. It looked to be a great proposal and was sailing along towards becoming a reality when it hit a roadblock that knocked the wheels right off the track. However, in true Jami/OCD fashion, I had already: mapped out the entire year’s schedule, chosen the uniforms, fully planned the cost, and even started a website. Therefore, yesterday I received a call from a parent interested in Franklin Youth Cheerleading. I felt terrible as I explained to her that the idea never really actually took flight. Somehow, I do not recall how, it came up during the conversation that I homeschooled. The mother gasped and said, “Really? I am actually contemplating homeschooling my children next year, and I really need some advice. Can I ask you a few things about homeschooling?” We proceeded to have a 30-minute conversation which was 50% about cheerleading and 50% about homeschooling. After I hung up, I stopped for a moment to contemplate. That was not just a coincidence; that was not just by chance; it was a divine appointment from God. I do not know what that woman’s relationship with God is like, but I know that He wanted her to call me so I could give her some advice from the unique perspective of someone who fully understands the world of cheerleading and the world of homeschooling.

It made me wonder though: How many times do I have appointments like this and because of my hectic life I do not slow down enough to realize that it was a divine appointment? And how much do I miss out on learning because I do not take the few minutes of introspection necessary to say, “Hmmmm? What was the higher purpose here?” I believe there are probably many of those times. I bet frequently God works to schedule a divine appointment for me, and I just breeze through it not even realizing that it was something sent from God.

So today I am purposing in my heart, to slow down a little. I am taking stock of the things that happen in this day and contemplating, “Why did God want me in this exact spot today?” I believe that God speaks to those who want to hear Him, and God reveals Himself to those who want to see Him. So today, look and listen and be blessed for it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Be the Change You Want to See!

These words have been floating around in my head for several weeks. I decided it was time to blog about them and quickly googled them to see if maybe I had heard them somewhere and that’s why they have been stuck in my head. They are part of a quote from Ghandi. (Odd… it’s not like I have ever consciously studied Ghandi.) Regardless, the wisdom of these words has been coming at me frequently. Here are a few examples:

John and I have been praying HARD for revival for many weeks now. After seeing the movie, Facing the Giants, we were inspired by the man who walked the halls at the high school praying for revival as he touched the lockers. We have been focusing most of our prayer for revival on New Day Church; however, we pray that revival will spread to all corners of this earth. Therefore on Sunday mornings, we arrive early to church, and we walk through the rows of chairs praying for revival and touching each chair. Recently, I keep hearing God telling me, “Be the change you want to see.” I think he is telling me if I want revival at my church, in this land, then I need to spark a revival in my own heart. I need to get set on fire for God anew. Then that spark in my heart can start to spread to my church and throughout the whole earth. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” (James 3:5).

Another way these words have been ministering to me is sort of a new twist on an old favorite, the Golden Rule. I am a very sensitive person (this might possibly be the biggest understatement in the world). I get hurt so easily, and once hurt, I often find myself wallowing around in the pain, “Why, oh why, did they do that?” “How, oh how, could a person be like that?” Lately I have heard God calling me to step out of the mud and muck of the pain I am wallowing in and do something to make a difference. I have heard Him saying, “Be the change you want to see.” It is inspiring me to greater heights of patience, loving kindness, and impartiality. When someone is impatient and rude to me at the grocery store, I counter with patience in my reply to them. When someone is cruel or unkind to me, I try to respond with love and kindness. When I feel slighted by a judgmental comment, I vow to strive harder to be impartial and never pass judgment.

I am sure some reading this are thinking but that doesn’t make a difference! You being nice to a rude person doesn’t stop them from being rude to the next person. You being kind doesn’t mean everyone in this world will be kind. You refusing to be judgmental doesn’t end unfairness around the world. But I believe differently. I believe that one person can make a difference, and I believe that even if all I changed was my filthy, rotten, sinful response, than that is still something good.

So go out today and “Be the change you want to see.” If nothing else you will change yourself, and that is still something very good.

Monday, April 6, 2009

World War 3....

My kiddos have been at each other’s throats most of the morning. He spilled my juice! That wasn’t his juice it was Hannah’s! Give me back those drumsticks! As a mom, I just want the fighting to STOP! It breaks my heart and hurts my head. As a person, I see validity in the grievances listed by all sides. I understand that a little sister who CONSTANTLY turns the television off in the middle of your program can be irritating, but I equally understand that being choked by your brother can be a little grievous too. Both sides have valid points to argue, but (mostly because of my wicked headache) I just wish they could find a way to get along. On a more realistic level, I wish they would remember to just let ME solve their disputes. I find myself CONSTANTLY saying, “Do NOT take matters into your own hands!” I remind them that when Hannah does something to them if they come to me for help then only Hannah gets in trouble, but if they take matters into their own hands and deal with the matter themselves, then they will get into trouble too.
I bet God feels that way about us too. When he looks at all our warring and fighting and fussing and complaining, I bet He recognizes the validity of our grievances. He knows that it hurts to be lied to. He recognizes that being rejected does not feel good. He knows full well how hard it is to forgive someone over and over and over again for the same exact thing. He knows that it is irritating to have to relate to filthy rotten sinners who just cannot seem to stop sinning. But I bet He too dreams of a day when we will all just get along, and I know that He wants to say to us, “Do NOT take matters into your own hands!” He wants us to come to Him when someone sins against us. He wants us to refrain from retaliation. He wants us to let Him deliver the consequences.
When my kids were in public school here in Franklin, their teachers often said, “1-2-3 eyes on me!” to get control of the class that had dissolved into chatting or horseplay. I envision God saying the same to us. When we are bickering, gossiping, or even just obsessing about other people, I think He is standing there saying to us, "Get your eyes off of that and onto me." So the next time someone hurts you or sins against you in some way, instead of fighting back stop and listen, and see if you can hear it: “1-2-3 eyes on Me!”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Library, Wal-Mart, and Random Kindness

This story is a little old, but it is a GREAT read so I am recycling it as a new post here on this blog.

On Wednesday, I waited for my husband, John, to return home so I could go run my errands; however, by the time he arrived home from work at 6:30 p.m., I was too exhausted to go anywhere. Therefore, Thursday I decided to be brave and attempt my errands with all four children tagging along.

We set out for our first stop, the library. As the typical protocol is to be quiet in a library, this looked to be our most harrowing endeavor. Upon arrival in the parking lot, I promptly put four-year old Jeremiah and two-year old Elijah in the double stroller (ensuring that Jeremiah was in the back seat, because whenever Elijah is in the back, he pulls the hair of whoever is in the front). I then got one-month old Hannah situated in the baby-sling and grabbed my purse. With six year-old Noah walking alongside me, I headed into the library.

It was a very successful trip. I did have to say "Shhhhhh" about a hundred times; however, other than that, it was quite uneventful. Each of the boys got a book and a DVD. I got several items I'd requested, and we left in an orderly fashion. I wasn't really feeling prideful (just lucky) so I'm not certain how to explain the "fall" which came next. I guess I just pushed my luck too far.

We arrived at Wal-Mart, and all appeared to be going well; made it through the baby section without incident, and then on the way to the paper products and cleaning section it began. Hannah started fussing, which as is typical for many newborns was a few seconds of pitiful mewling mixed with moments of sheer ticked off SCREAMING. Jeremiah and Elijah took this as their cue to begin pulling as many items as they could off the shelves we passed. Noah was the only bright spot in a very dismal Wal-Mart experience. As I again had Jeremiah and Elijah in the stroller and Hannah in the sling, Noah was pushing the cart and obediently filling it with the items I handed him.

Since all mayhem was breaking out, I had to abandon my efforts to track how much I was spending and make sure that I stayed within my budget. I just threw caution to the wind and got everything on my list hoping the total would not be too shocking. We finally had all the items we needed and proceeded to the checkout.

Now for some reason there were only about two non-express lanes open at this time and there were about six people in line at each of those registers. I took my place in line with Hannah screaming her head off and Jeremiah and Elijah now trying to pocket candy as we passed through the lane. I contemplated trying to nurse Hannah right there in the sling, but determined that the little boy in front of us would see WAY more of me than he needed to, so I instead just kept bouncing Hannah and whispering to her. Finally when we were about three from being checked out, an associate came up to me and said, "I can take you on aisle 12." I hightailed it over there, and Noah and I emptied our cart onto the belt.

After what felt like hours of being in Wal-Mart, the end was in sight. The checker gave me my total. I handed her my coupons and then used a $25 gift card to pay the first part of it. Then I took out my debit card to pay the balance (about $40). I swiped my card and chose credit. It was declined. I swiped it again...declined. At this point I was sweating, Hannah was screaming, Elijah and Jeremiah were tired of trying to shoplift and were now attempting to escape from the stroller. Noah was still behaving WONDERFULLY. I swiped my card again and tried debit. Still no go. I was ready to cry. Much to their credit, the people in line behind me had nothing but sympathy on their faces and not a one of them made an irritated sound. I called John and told him of my plight. He said he'd be there in five minutes with cash to pay the bill.

Just then the shopper at the next register turned to my checker and handed over her credit card. She said, “Put her total on my card.” I was stunned. I don't think she even knew or asked what the total was. She said to me, “I have two kids at home and I have no idea how you're doing this with four.” I asked her to please give me her name and address so I could send her a check. She agreed; however, she didn't know me from Adam so she had no way of knowing that I would really send a check. She paid my bill, with me thanking her profusely, and never blinked an eye. The kids and I left the store and headed for the car.

As we were loading the van, John drove up and my angel of mercy (who just happened to be parked right across from me) got to her car with her purchases. I was able to send John to get cash for her and to talk with her for a few minutes, thanking her over and over again.
The lesson I learned that night: don't go to Wal-Mart with more children than you have arms. Upon arriving home, I checked my bank account online, and sure enough there was PLENTY of money in there. I have no idea why that happened. All I know is that my faith in humanity grew a little that night, when I was the recipient of someone's random kindness and I learned that there is an angel in Franklin named Aimee.

Blog writer's note: That angel in Franklin has now been my dear friend for almost 3 years, and many times over the course of our friendship I have again been the recipient of her random acts of kindess.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The upside of Facebook....

I am well aware of the inherent dangers of Facebook and other social networking sites of its kind. However, lately I have been celebrating the positive aspects of Facebook. The whole entire concept of these social networking sites is connecting people. For me, one of the best parts of Facebook is re-connecting with old friends, former students, cheerleaders I used to coach. I love hearing where their lives are right now and learning of the journey God used to get them there.

Almost a month ago, I stumbled upon the Facebook page of an old friend from high school. I used my stellar Facebook stalking skills to catch up on where life had taken him. I ended up with tears in my eyes and prayers heavy on my heart. His wife is currently pregnant with their fourth and fifth children. To make a very long medical ordeal succinct: one of the twins in her womb has died, and its death has put a terrible strain on the other twin. Reading of their journey through this loss and their fight for their other child's life reminded me of the amazing power of our great God and inspired me to aspire to the kind of pure and strong faith to which they are clinging.

In the days following my reconnection with the Veldhuyzen-Van Zanten Family, the Kastner family struggled through a deep, dark valley too. The vast outpouring of support I received from my Facebook friends buoyed me through the storm. A plan started to hatch in my brain, “This thing called Facebook, why don’t I grab hold of it and use it for God’s good?” Thus began Jami’s Prayer Room. I invited all my Facebook friends, and I asked them to post their requests at the group site or e-mail me if their request was of a more sensitive nature. The rapid enlistment rate and the flood of requests was amazing! This group is flourishing, people are being touched, and God is being glorified.

This inspires me! What other things around me can I use for God’s glory? The possibilities are endless! I can use my bleeding, over-sensitive heart for good by praying every single time I feel a twinge of empathy or concern. I can use my love for cooking and entertaining to reach out and minister to the sick and lonely. I can use my writing to draw people’s thoughts to God.

Which leads us to my question of the day: What in your life can be used for His glory? What gifts, struggles, even weaknesses can you use for the glory of God? Seize those opportunities, TODAY! It will not just bless others; it will in turn bless you too.

(I would love to hear about your plans to glorify Him. Please leave them as comments here.)

Friday, April 3, 2009

God's Will viewed through American Idol

The other night I had an exhausting night of dreams fraught with deep meaning. For example in one part of my dream, I was outside a building with Hannah. All of sudden in the distance, I saw a tornado approaching. I knew I had no time to run inside so I just huddled close to the building and shielded Hannah with my body. Bricks flew from the building and glass shattered as the tornado devastated all around us, but we were not harmed by the storm. As I reflected on the dream the next day, I realized that this was just like what my family has been enduring for the past few years. Destruction and devastation rages all around us, yet God shields us with His body protecting us from being harmed by the storm.

In another part of my dream, I was walking with American Idol contestant Danny Gokey. (Yes, I full well realize that I probably watch and google American Idol too much.) As Danny and I walked along, he expressed to me his concern about being eliminated from the show. I turned to him and said, “If it is God’s will for you to be the next American Idol, there is nothing that can stand in your way. If it is not God’s will, do you really want it?”

I have often found myself in this same position. I recall right after John and I first got married. We had moved to Denver and were trying to make it there. I interviewed for several teaching positions. I was rejected over and over again. I remember trying so hard to remind myself that I wanted God to close the doors that I was not supposed to walk through, but still the rejection stung so badly. I wrestled with God and cried out my pain and fear. Finally, a deep peace settled upon me. I knew what I truly wanted was to be in the center of God’s will for my life. It did not make the rejection hurt any less, but it refocused my eyes onto what was really important. After just five months of living in Denver, God led John and me back home to Wisconsin. As I recalled the rejection of my job hunt, I realized that had I gotten a job I would not have been free to return to Wisconsin. I would not have been free to be in the center of God's will.

What’s the rejection you’re facing today? Whether you are trying to be the next American Idol, searching desperately for a job, or chasing some other dream, I hope that you too desire nothing more and nothing less than His will for your life.

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple. Psalm 27:4

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bare Naked Honesty

Bare-Naked Honesty... This is the theme of the current season God is leading me through. I feel He wants me to be bare-naked honest about the things I am going through right now. I am sure there are many reasons that he has called me to this level of exposure, but the two which have been most recently revealed to me are:

1. I have available to me through my family, my church and even Facebook a VAST network of support. Without bare-naked honesty, no one knows how or when to pray for me. Without bare-naked honesty, no one knows how bad things really are. Without bare-naked honesty, no one can reach out and help us.

2. Another reason God wants me to be so open and honest is because of the blessing it is to others. Sometimes others are blessed by being witness to miraculous answers to our prayers, and sometimes they are blessed with hope as I share the depths of the darkness we have walked through and reveal that not once in the past has God EVER let us down.

But as in all things there is a dark and nasty side to all this bare-naked honesty. Imagine it this way for a moment. You are standing in the middle of a huge arena filled with all your friends and family. Some of these who fill this audience are merely acquaintances, your sixth grade teacher or that guy you vaguely remember from college. Others seated in this arena are intimately acquainted with you; they changed your diapers or have been your best friend since the second grade. All these people fill the seats, waiting for what you have to tell them.

You stand in the middle of a full court with cameras projecting your image onto that huge scoreboard screen above, and you drop your robe to stand there in nothing but your birthday suit. Your purpose for this is noble. Your nakedness is not for the mere sake of nakedness. It is for a higher purpose. It is to reveal your needs to others. It is to encourage and even warn
others.

Yet those around you start to point and snicker at the stretch marks that zig zag across your abdomen. They shake their heads and whisper, “That flab around her middle. That is why she is going through this.” Not everyone is laughing or judging. In fact, as you look closer, you see that it is really only a handful. Almost the entire arena has now stopped to bow their heads and pray for you. Yet those few mockers, those few judges, and even those well-meaning ones who like Job’s dear friends are trying to offer advice but are really just pouring more salt in your tender wounds, they are the ones that stand out. Their laughter, finger pointing, even their “friendly advice” seems to drown out all the prayers you hear being offered.

What is a person to do? “Grab your robe and cover up!” That’s the first thing your heart screams. You should have never opened up. You should never have tried this stupid thing called bare-naked honesty. But back in a little corner of your soul, you hear God quietly whisper, “Surely I desire truth in the innermost parts.” “Scream and shout and fight your cause to them!” That’s your brain talking now. It’s telling you to defend yourself, to present the 3-point sermon you devised in your head before you convinced yourself to drop the robe as God commanded. God counters, “Be still and know that I am God.” What does that mean? I am standing here, exposed and vulnerable. “Look up to ME!” thunders the voice in your soul. And finally you get it.

It doesn’t matter how others respond to your bare-naked honesty. It matters that you did what God told you to do. So get your eyes off the crowd. Turn your eyes up to the One to Whom your pleas are directed, to the One Who has the power to redeem you, to the One to Whom all praise and honor and glory are due.

I do not know what season you are currently walking through right now, but I know that no matter what it is that last sentence applies to your situation. It applies to you who are begging God to heal your children. It applies to you who are unsure how you are going to put meals on the table to feed your children. It applies to you who are walking through what very well might be the last days of your life. Turn your eyes up to the One to Whom your pleas are directed, to the One Who has the power to redeem you, to the One to Whom all praise and honor and glory are due.
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